by Shannon Kucaj
Starting kindergarten can be scary for young children—they are in a new place, interacting with people they may not know yet, and are being introduced to so much new information at once. When I first started kindergarten, I experienced separation anxiety as I had a difficult adjustment to being away from my mom and dad. I had afternoon class, and I would spend the morning crying because I didn’t want to leave my parents. When my parents would drop me off, I would cling to my father’s legs, begging them not to leave. I remember this intense dread, even many years later.
But my caring kindergarten teacher quickly took notice and comforted me, and she told my mom and me about Audrey Penn’s The Kissing Hand. The Kissing Handfollows Chester Raccoon and his mother Mrs. Raccoon as she informs Chester about their family secret on how to feel love’s reassurance any time the world feels scary. My mom read the story to me, and we talked about how we could use the Raccoon’s family secret, too. She would kiss my left palm every afternoon before school began—this small act left a big impact. It made me feel so warmed, so loved, knowing that I could always have our relationship with me no matter where I was and where I went. I still remember being in class, feeling the anxiety start up, and putting my hand right up to my cheek. I was transported back home with my mom as she whispered to me that everything would be okay and that she loved me. Sometimes, I would also put my hand to my heart, giving myself that extra reassurance that my mom and dad would always be there. This helped soothe my worries.
Reflecting on this experience is so dear to me; the impact this gesture had is still with me today. This was one of the first times I realized the power that books can hold. This beautifully crafted story gave me space to safely explore the feelings and worries I had about leaving my parents and my home and embarking on a new journey. At the time, I wasn’t sure why I was having these hard feelings, and this book helped me understand them and understand that I wasn’t alone in the process. It created such an endearing memory between my mom and me, too. Just like Chester, I would kiss my mom’s palm, letting her know that I would always be with her. This story inspires me to write books that have a similar impact on readers: providing a carefully crafted space discussing important topics and themes in a way that brings needed awareness.